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Rachel Thexton: Do Canadians realize what's at stake in this attack on news?

Supporting local journalism is important for the public relations industry, writes Rachel Thexton
Public relations principal Rachel Thexton argues that it's necessary for the public to reinforce the role of local journalism. Photo: Fedor Kozyr / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

As we consume news, our options are becoming limited, and I’m confident that many do not grasp the value of authentic journalism nor the seriousness of what is happening as authentic news becomes less available to us.

From changes to news accessible via Google and social media platforms, to ongoing newsroom layoffs, and Canada’s Online News Act, or Bill C-18, put into effect last month and requiring Facebook and Google to pay online news publishers for news content, our access to balanced news by trained journalists, is at stake. The B.C. government now considers pulling advertising from social media platforms that are blocking Canadians’ access to news.

What does this mean for the PR professional, or communications manager, who recognizes the value of profile for clients via media?

Most traditional news outlets such as newspapers, trade publications, TV news shows, and talk radio shows have enhanced their digital presence and incorporated a strong social media strategy. Yet layoffs continue to loom over the heads of media working at some of Canada’s largest companies, such as Bell Media.

Communicators are facing a media landscape where generating profile for their client’s latest technology, news, or product launch has become more challenging. At times, its alarming, as reporters voice a desire to cover a story but simply cannot, due to a lack of resources. Vancouver’s largest daily newspapers, Vancouver Sun and The Province, no longer have newsrooms, with media now working remotely.

Working with an intensified need for powerful PR strategies, solid media relationships, and sometimes pure luck, digital changes are also now making it difficult for communicators to spread news once it has run.

A significant benefit and recommendation that smart PR pros will provide to clients is to provide valuable news a second life by spreading it via social media to reach more eyeballs and ears, broadening the reach to those who did not see the original piece but can now click to it via Twitter or other. New policies prevent this.

Although the division created by post-COVID politics, and the ongoing propaganda associated with the “Trump era,” has affected a segment of the population’s trust in news sources, it’s clear that many rely on their evening news broadcasts, online newspapers, or drive-home radio show to gather the latest in what is happening locally, and abroad.

What’s the solution for PR as the attack on news continues?

First, communicators must join the fight to voice the irreplaceable value of journalism, its crucial role in informing Canadians, and keeping those in power accountable.

PR pros must also support news, investing in subscriptions and donating to independent credible journalism. The Canadian government introduced the digital news subscription tax credit for amounts paid to a qualifying media outlet subscriptions. This is a smart move. My only recommendation is that additional solid news sources must be on the qualifying list for credits.

It's more imperative than ever to encourage clients to have a news section on their website, sampling their news profiles and directing users to the news sources’ story links.

Subscribing to your local media outlet’s newsletters, with news sent directly to your inbox, is key, such as those offered by Business in Vancouver. Another important move is downloading a media outlet’s app, if available, for news outlets you rely on. I hope to see more media outlets providing this option in such stormy digital news waters.

Blogs, influencer content and other digital offerings are valuable, and will remain so, but we must recognize that we rely on journalism.

When the Canadian medical field started to seriously struggle post-pandemic, it was journalism that dove into this issue, reporting extensively and forcing government to consider changes to the sector, including policy updates. Business professionals needing to stay informed on the latest industry trends and entrepreneurial concepts receive valuable insight from media, not to mention the benefits of sharing their own timely developments via business media.

Protecting news, via voicing your opinions, letters to government, and digital providers, and taking steps to support and continue to consume journalism is more important than ever.

PR leaders must continue to learn as digital evolves; new social media platform Threads recently exploded into the digital scene and is expected to reach 100 million users within a few days of its launch.

That said, journalism is a crucial ingredient in the communications mix and without it, trust me, we will notice, and it will be an unbelievable blow to so many parts of society including business, entertainment, advocacy, accountability, and ensuring that Canadians are properly informed on facts that only journalism can provide.  

Rachel Thexton is the principal at Thexton PR in Vancouver.